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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 19:07 GMT
Should the media back the government in wartime?
Tony Blair has acted to reassure the media that he doesn't see the raising of doubts about war aims or civilian casualties as appeasement.
He said it was in fact a sign of democracy that such concerns were raised.
But parts of the European media don't feel so free to voice their criticisms. Some say they've been accused of defeatism for not sounding "gung ho" enough.
Should the press side with their governments in times of war and in the light of the events of September 11th? Are some media outlets contributing to a defeatist attitude?
For this Europewide Debate, Europe Today's Mark Reid brought together Christina Gallach, the spokeswoman for the EU's foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, and a journalist with the London Guardian newspaper, Ben Wegg-Prosser.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The media have the responsibility to report the facts from the battlefield in as objective a manner as possible, and to allow the viewers and readers to arrive at their own conclusions.
The media should report only facts, and not "make it more readable", or "interpret the facts" for the people served. Doing so merely invites overlaying the events with the reporter's personal biases. This distorts accuracy in what the people can find out about the events, and allows the politically and economically powerful to twist knowledge to their own ends. One need only remember Hitler's Germany to see the effect of such twisted reporting, or look at Iraq's reporting on the Kurdish people's situation today. We must not allow such bias to enter into any decisions, personal, professional or political, and the media must be the first line of defence against the possibility. Freedom of speech does not mean permission to deceive. It carries a very heavy burden of responsibility to be accurate in what is said. The people can interpret for themselves what is important, and they can also be trusted to act appropriately on that information.
Even if news reporting affects the ability to fight a war, this surely does not in itself justify restrictions, unless you have already assumed that the war in question is justified. And to be able to decide the validity of that assumption, you need access to all the information. We should be allowed to think for ourselves or we will forget how to do this - a great danger to any country! I agree that the media should cite their sources of information and distinguish fact from opinion - but then, governments are at least as guilty of this as the media.
What? Since when hasn't the media
sided with its government during a time
of war? Governments have always
pressured the media, which in turn
has made the media never being truly free
in providing objective reporting.
So far we have had anthrax panic aplenty, a smattering of the possibility of nuclear holocaust, and so on. It may not be the media's responsibility to support the government, since it after all a free press. It is however the media's responsibility to put things in perspective, and stop causing widespread panic in the hope of selling a few more copies.
If it is a fight for the country's survival, then yes. Otherwise No, freedom of speech and the media to scrutinise government actions are vital in many democracies. For example if the media did support the government would we hear about the civilian casualties? I don't think so.
Failure by the media to scrutinise the war effort and civilian casualties would give the government(s) a blank check to do as they like in Afghanistan.
Freedom also requires responsibility. If the press do not take a more responsible view in reporting these situations, especially with the increased importance of "hearts and minds" in these types of conflict, then reluctantly I would accept that the government would be justified in temporarily placing limitations on the media.
It has only been a few weeks in what we all knew would not be an overnight operation - let our armed forces and politicians get on with the job without being prematurely undermined.
Some in the media contributing to the defeatist attitude? Rather the overwhelming majority of media paint the war news with deep hues of defeatism and scepticism. The terrorists couldn't have found a better ally than the media. It's somewhat difficult to find a single network that is fair, balanced and reports news with appropriate story proportion overall. It seems the networks want people to remain scared, want people to expect the worst - indeed they seem to want civilisation to lose to the terrorists. I wager their marketing experts predict better ratings that way.
On the other hand, the media need not allow themselves to be made the handmaiden of their government in all situations. It remains their responsibility to report the truth, even if it is not favourable to the government -- political democracy demands it. The only restriction should be the need to protect the country's ability to pursue the war.
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